As another Spring begins another fixed gear season kicks off and the opener is non-other than Red Hook Crit on it’s home turf in Red Hook Brooklyn for the 10th time
East London Fixed is back for more and in bigger, better form. With new title sponsor Huez* the team, now mens and womens, is 10 strong and ready to battle. This season as ELF Huez*. The trip over to NYC is always a good one, it’s a great city to ride round, eat out and have a good time. Combined with the anticipation of the race it makes a great week away.
ELF Huez* bought its strongest lineup ever to Brooklyn.
For the mens race:
- Owen Blandy
- Dan Cooper
- Matt Payne
- Max Geddes
- Edgarz Aizbalts
- Ben Flower
- Jevi Repponen
For the womens race:
- Brooke Philips
- Johanna Jahnke
- Veronika Velok
After a few days filming and riding we were ready for race day. The same pre-race rituals kick off, big carby meal, lots of water and setting up the bikes and kit. After some pretty dramatic storms over night we wake to some incredible weather. Almost no sign of the rain and already 20+ degrees. We load up and ride to the circuit together. After getting setup in the rider area we prepare for qualifying.
The change in qualifying seemed well accepted among most and to be honest it took much of the stress and anxiety out of the process. Previous Red Hook’s have been emotional roller coasters due to the lack of control you sometimes had in setting a fast lap. Perhaps you missed the fast train of riders, you had slow riders blocking your line during your attempts, or a red flag interrupts your attempt. There are only so many max 90 second efforts you can take.
Lining up for the qualifier I was 6th , Super happy with thatI was ready and raring. Being in Aldo Ilesic’s qualifier meant we were looking to him to set the pace. On the grid my Garmin was reading 31 degrees and my heart rate 115bpm. Caffeine, adrenaline and a good crowd all contributing. Typically, my resting heart rate is around 50.
As we set off the familiarity of bunch racing set in. I’m happy here. I’m comfortable and in control of my fate. I let riders pass me willingly to conserve and sit in. The pace wasn’t frantic so when I wanted to move up I could. Come a few laps to go I decide to move towards the front and maintain front 5 position. As we make it through the hairpins for the final time 3 riders are slipping away. Not a problem, I didn’t want to hit super pole due to the extra event so made no effort to chase. Into the headwind on the back straight there was a slight lull in pace as no one wanted to do the work. Just as I look round I hear a familiar voice shout ‘Dan get on!’. Matt has attacked and given me enough notice to jump on his wheel for a lead out. We drive down the back straight into the headwind at 50+kmh, a quick glimpse back and we have a gap. I accelerate round Matt for the final 2 corners and sprint home for 4th, Matt gets 5th. What a great ride!
Still buzzing off of the excitement I head back to the athlete area ready to share our elation with the team. We step in and begin explaining and I get a tap on the shoulder. ‘Number 257, are you Dan Cooper?’. Oh shit, what have I done? Am I DQ’d?
‘You’ve been selected at random for a Doping Test can you come with me please?’.
Instant relief. I would have hated bad news after such a good result. Thankfully I know I’m a 100% clean athlete and I was strangely looking forward to being tested. I was interested to observe the whole process. I’m happy this goes on at events we all work so hard to race.
I’m taken through to a controlled area where the testers from WADA are waiting. They explain I’ll need to provide a urine sample. Given the intense heat and workload I already feel dehydrated so accept their offer of water and play the waiting game. 4 x 500ml bottles in about 10 minutes did the trick and I went through to the bathroom with the tester. I chose 1 of 15 sealed urine cups at my choice and proceeded. During washing my hands I’d already opened the cup and some water had sprayed on it. The tester requested I get another. Nice to see they take this all really seriously.
After providing the sample we sat down and the tester used a small device to test the concentration. He explained that if it is too weak we’ll have to wait and test again. The sample was within the correct parameters so thankfully I wouldn’t have to wait around to pee again. I was asked to select a sealed box at random, again 1 of 15. The tester asked me to open everything myself. The box contained 2 sealable glass bottles which once closed are locked. After documenting the serial numbers the sample was divided into the 2 bottles. The tester explained that the top of the lid is opened via laser so the seal need never break. He asked me to attempt to open them in order to confirm the seal and make sure I was happy. I took my copy of paperwork and off I went.
Now it was time to get the feet up, refuel and get in the zone for tonight’s men’s race. We shared qualifying stories and advice on how to deal with our relative races and positions. This is the time where I prefer to just get headphones in and keep myself to myself. Most of the team felt the same and we were all chilling in our rider area.
Once warmup time came around we headed to Parc Ferme for rollers. Annoyingly they were all busy so we headed back in and borrowed a spare pair from the affinity paddock. Thanks go to the unknowing owner.
Time came around and we headed out to the course for the procession lap, the weather was balmy, 23 degrees at 9:40pm. The wind had died down slightly and the crowds were massive. I don’t remember seeing a blank area anywhere and around the start finish it was 5-6 deep. We gridded up and got set to go.
The cameras started flashing. Boards were banging and the countdown began. This moment is always electric and why we come back again and again. Before you have time to absorb it 3, 2, 1, go! Clipping in and it’s on, straight up to 53kmh before the madness of 100 guys slowing for the first hairpin. Matt Payne had a mental start and flew past taking loads of places. The stink of rubber as riders lock up the rear wheel to brake wafts through. My heart rate reaches threshold within the first minute. This is going to hurt.
Onto the back straight and 53kmh. The tone has been set by Alec Briggs who drills it home for the 1st lap breakfast prime. The pace doesn’t let off and this race is on.
Honestly from here it’s a whirlwind. Every lap we hit the hairpins at around 32kmh and accelerate to 53kmh on the straights. I’m hanging on to this rollercoaster ride trying my best to manage my limit. Occasionally I see a gap open 2 or 3 riders ahead. I’m not getting dropped from the main bunch that easy. I come around the flagging riders and drill to close it.
Crashes take place throughout the race around me but never so close I can’t react. The first hairpin was the most common spot, perhaps the limits or grip? A catching pedal? Or riders taking different lines and making contact. Matt is taken out in one of them, a shame as he was having a screamer up until now.
I mostly trade places with 5 or so riders around me as the race was so strung out. I remember seeing 9 laps to go and hearing the devil in my ear asking me how on earth I’m going to manage this. I ignore it and just pedal hard. 5 laps to go and red flags go up. There has been a pile up at the front of the race involving some of the favourites. I wanted the race to be over. The idea of stopping and restarting into the pain again wasn’t favourable. As we stopped at the starting grid all of a sudden I felt a wash of heat and sweat. On the inside, I felt like a steaming race horse.
Once the incident was dealt with David and co did their best to reorder the groups and the breakaway of Colin and Stefan. Off we went, I clipped in immediately and shot off making up 10 or more spots straight away. Back to mental pace and the final was on. Coming into the final lap I felt good and ready to finish this off. Down the back straight at 53kmh again and through the last corners at 50 launching into a sprint for those extra 2 or 3 spots. This was honestly one of the fastest and most intense races I’ve ever done! Averaging 44kmh with 3 hairpins, one gear, no brakes. Amazing.
My final results was 30th. A personal best and only 5 places off of my season goal of top 25. Owen finished first out of the chasing group with an admirable 43rd. Edgarz in his first ever Red Hook Final was lapped at 11 laps to finish 85th. Matt unfortately didn’t get to finished after being crashed out but walked away with minor road rash.
Special word to the rest of ELF Huez*. Max finished 30th in the last chance race, Ben 36th. Johanna got 10th, Brooke 17th, Veronika 28th to secured 4th in the team standings!
This trip was a fantastic opener for ELF Huez* and we’re all super excited for the rest of the season.
My full on-board race video is viewable here: